Fr. James Turner poses for a photo with fifth-graders at St. Thomas More in Glendale. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

GLENDALE — It’s one thing to know the story of Noah’s Ark and the pairs of animals inside. It’s entirely another to buy such a vessel.

All 75 “DJs” — Disciples of Jesus — in St. Thomas More’s faith formation program fit under both categories. The fifth-graders used donations to buy a Gift Ark from Heifer International, an organization that works to end hunger and poverty.

They presented their nearly $5,200 check to a Heifer representative April 24 at the parish. Monies largely came from monthly dinners the recently confirmed kids hosted between weekday religious education classes.

This marked the maiden voyage of the year-long service effort at St. Thomas More. Religious education leaders wanted to pique the children’s interest in returning to class post-confirmation. It worked.

They’re getting the message that “now is when you start living your faith,” said Ann Maloney, assistant coordinator of Christian Formation.

Maria Buhrman, coordinator, agreed. She said springtime attendance often drops in lieu of sports and other activities. This time, the pair saw consistent attendance all year long among the fifth-graders.

They also remained committed to supplying that Gift Ark filled with 15 pairs of animals to benefit families around the world. Heifer International is in more than 50 countries including the United States.

St. Thomas More students watched videos in class to learn about how other cultures live. Maloney said it was eye opening when the students learned, for example, that the average $250 annual income in Nepal is less than an American parent might spend on soccer.

The kids were proud to reach their goal and hear about the difference they’d be making. Villages helped through Heifer International raise the animals and make a living by selling its byproduct: wool from the sheep in the U.S., milk from the cows in a Russian village or produce that camels in Tanzania or oxen in Uganda helped plow or transport.

“I liked how some little kids were just getting some hot dogs and those few dollars can help buy some goats and chickens,” 10-year-old John Linden said of his group’s fundraiser.

One boy was reportedly so psyched to serve — both the dinner and families across the globe — that wearing the group’s “Disciple of Jesus” T-Shirt while serving dinner wasn’t enough. He opted to wear a tie on top of it.

After the check presentation, Paul Hopkins, a local volunteer with Heifer International, visited the fifth-grade classroom to share more about how the animals help the families. He has traveled to Zambia and Malawi with the organization.

“It is the best thing that’s happened to them in their life. And it’s part of their family,” he said, noting baby chicks he saw in the corner of one family’s home.

Local villages receive training on raising the animals and veterinary care to nurture the best possible outcome for both parties. And families are required to pass on their animal’s first female offspring — alongside their knowledge, resources and skills — to others in need.

Further giving

Local Catholic schools also donated to Heifer International this spring. Ss. Simon and Jude students tripled last year’s collection raising more than $2,100 from the school and the parish’s religious education program. A local bank matched the first $1,000. Funds will sponsor a trio of angora bunnies.

Ss. Simon and Jude’s school students are raising additional funds through ice pop sales this week.

St. Thomas the Apostle students turned “points” they earned by recycling juice pouches and certain potato chip bags through Terra Cycle into a donation to a charitable and environmental organization. Among the fruits it bore were two geese and three chickens to needy families through Heifer International.

Back at St. Thomas More, post-confirmation students are already excited for next year. The incoming fourth-graders who saw the fifth-grade “Disciples of Jesus” as role models, are eager to become “Best Friends in Faith.” They will dedicate their service work to projects at the parish level.